Prevent Altitude Sickness

Learn about preventing altitude sickness

Mountain climbing, skiing, and just vacationing in the mountains or at other high altitudes can be an enjoyable experience, but it is also one that not all bodies are accustomed to. The lack of oxygen at higher altitudes can cause problems for some. Knowing what altitude sickness is, how to identify it, and ways to prevent it can make your next trip much more enjoyable and safe.

What is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness is a result of not being able to get enough oxygen when breathing at very high altitudes. Because there is less oxygen in the air at higher altitudes, your body needs to breath more quickly to get the oxygen it needs and needs to get used to functioning with less oxygen, which can cause symptoms that make you feel sick.

It occurs most commonly in people who are not used to changing altitudes, and who change altitudes quickly. There is no proven link between fitness, gender, and other health conditions and the likelihood of getting altitude sickness. That is why it is important for everyone who will be traveling at higher altitudes to do what they can to prepare and prevent altitude sickness.

What are symptoms of altitude sickness?

Like any condition, symptoms of altitude sickness can vary in type and severity. The most common symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach ache or uneasiness (could lead to vomiting)
  • Loss of energy and constantly feeling tired

More severe symptoms, which indicate you should seek help immediately, include:

  • Blue/gray fingers or lips
  • Feeling faint
  • Inability to walk straight
  • Feeling confused

Some of these symptoms can be treated with simple remedies, like painkillers, but all indicate the beginnings of altitude sickness, and should not be taken lightly. If you experience common or more severe symptoms, you should be sure to drink more water, eat, and give your body ample time to rest and adjust before proceeding.

How can you prevent altitude sickness?

While altitude sickness can be harmful, and even deadly, it can easily be prevented and treated. The most important action you can take when traveling at high altitudes is to look out for the above symptoms. Catching altitude sickness early can be the difference between a severe and dangerous condition and an easily curable one. Aside from looking out for and treating altitude sickness, there are also some steps you can take to help prevent it entirely.

Take it slow and allow your body to acclimate

If you know you will be traveling at high altitudes, especially if you will be climbing, give yourself enough time to adjust to different altitude levels as you go. Just as a diver has to stop in increments as they descend into the ocean, a climber needs to stop at certain points to allow their body to adjust to new heights. The same goes for anyone traveling at high altitudes. Be sure to fly in to the lowest possible point, and then travel upwards more slowly than you would on flat land.

Drink water

Low humidity at high altitudes means that your body will need more water than it normally would. Couple this with exercise, like climbing, and it's even more important to be drinking water constantly. Strive to drink at least twice as much water as you normally would on lower ground.

Eat right

Along with drinking enough water, you should also be eating enough of the right foods to keep your body going. Foods high in potassium are especially good for high altitudes, and carbohydrates can help give you long-lasting energy. Since loss of appetite is one common symptom of altitude sickness, it's vital that you keep eating regularly even if you don't feel hungry.

Check with a doctor before you go

There are medications that can help in combating altitude sickness and in easing its symptoms should you get it. Before you decide to journey to a high altitude, it's a good idea to talk to your medical professional in order to see what of these medications might work for you.

Last Reviewed:
June 14, 2017
Last Updated:
October 09, 2017
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